Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. At 9:01 am on April 19, 1995, a 20-foot Ryder truck filled with approximately 5,000 pounds of explosives blew up outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. One hundred and sixty eight people, including several children, died. Almost 700 people were injured. President Obama has signed a proclamation designating today as the National Day of Service and Remembrance for Victims and Survivors of Terrorism.
Sadly, in looking through this morning’s homeland security news and summaries, there was scant mention of the attack or today’s anniversary. Online, there were a few analysis, but it took some searching to find, with the exception of CNN, which ran a front page analysis and commentary on the attack. Over the weekend, some stories picked up tidbits from an interview from former President Bill Clinton, who noted that today’s political and cultural environment mirrors that that existed in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried out their attack.
What does this all mean? Have we forgotten Oklahoma City or have we, nine years after 9/11, after Ford Hood, the Austin IRS plane crash, and numerous-failed attempts and threats, become less sensitized to attacks? At least some polls would say differently. A CBS News poll found that “nearly 40 percent of Americans now believe domestic terrorism is a bigger threat than international terrorism.”
The definition of domestic terrorism, as this blog has explored in the past, remains one that is not easily defined. The line between criminal act and terrorism, especially when dealing with lone wolf types, is not easily defined.
That said, there are many lessons learned from the Oklahoma City bombing that we cannot forget if we are to advance our nation’s homeland security efforts.
- The threat of domestic terrorism remains as real as international terrorism. The threat from domestic extremists – whether left, right, or center is real. The bombing fifteen years ago made that clear. The arrest several weeks ago of members of the Michigan supremacist Militia group “Hutaree,” which had planned to kill police officers and then attack again at their funerals, tell us that the threat remains.
Whether one agrees with Clinton on the parallels between now and 1995, we know that there has been a dramatic growth of hate groups and anti-government groups, brought on in part by the nation’s economic turmoil and an outside-the-beltway frustration with Washington, D.C. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of paramilitary patriot groups increased from 42 to 127 between 2008 and 2009. The number of hate groups grew to 932 in 2009.
- First Preventers and Responders are Critical. As much funding we put into our national and federal homeland security efforts, terrorism is local. The first individuals on the scene will be the fire fighters and EMTs who live in the community, who will be the hardest hit as the victims will likely be family or friends. The investigators who will likely gather the first pieces of evidence are likely to be the local cops on the beat. Preparing these individuals with the intelligence, communications tools, cooperation capabilities, and knowledge to combat terrorism – regardless of its origin – is critical.
- Awareness is Still Key. While none of us should live in a state of panic or full of anxiety over potential attacks, we all must balance staying aware and being prepared with the daily things we do. It is a balance that is not easily found but one that is necessary.
About an hour ago, the Annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial began. The name of the 168 people who perished that day will be read. Secretary Napolitano will offer remarks about the state of the nation’s terrorism efforts. Hopefully all of us will remember the lessons learned and honor the lives of those affected that day.